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North Carolina's Other New GOP Congressman: Greg Murphy

Jeff Tiberii
Greg Murphy, with supporters in Greenville on Tuesday, has been elected to try to fill the shoes of the late Rep. Walter Jones, Jr.

Four years ago Greg Murphy was a political novice, practicing medicine in eastern North Carolina. Then he was appointed to the state House in 2015 and quickly emerged as an effective lawmaker. Now he’s the congressman-elect for the 3rd District.

“I think it will sink in when I’m sworn in and when I have official duties,” Murphy said at a gathering of friends and supporters in Greenville Tuesday evening. “But I'm going to hit the ground running. … This is a new job. I’m taking it with full vigor.”

I'm going to hit the ground running... This is a new job. I'm taking it with full vigor. -Greg Murphy

The special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, Jr. in February was well overshadowed by the close 9th Congressional District race. That race – a do-over after the 2018 contest was marred by vote tampering – drew a bright national spotlight and visits from the president and vice president.

The 3rd District, which sprawls across parts of 17 counties in the coastal plains has a deeply red constituency. Once Murphy won the GOP nomination, his win Tuesday night was nearly guaranteed.

He bested his closest rival – Democrat and former Greenville mayor Allen Thomas – by nearly 28,000 votes in the unofficial tally.

“I think Greg Murphy will make an excellent congressman because he’s already proven himself in the North Carolina General Assembly,” said voter Connie Corey, a longtime resident of Pitt County, which is the population center of the district. “He votes on knowledge and he votes on his heart. But mainly, he votes on … what his constituents are looking for.”

In Raleigh, Murphy has worked on legislation to fight the opioid epidemic and has also been an advocate for expanding Medicaid coverage to the poor and disabled in rural reaches of the state.

He’s campaigned for Congress as a loyal backer of President Donald Trump, and pronounced his opposition to Obamacare.

In this era of personality politics, Murphy can appear stiff. But he’s got a goofy side. Twice he’s read some of his own poetry on the floor of the North Carolina House -- including oneguffaw-garnering riff on “The Night Before Christmas”honoring the UNC Chapel Hill men’s basketball team, which had just won the 2017 national title.

Murphy, though, may never live up tohis predecessor’s outlandishness. It was Jones who famously demanded the U.S. House cafeteria rename French fries to “freedom fries” in the midst of France’s opposition to the war in Iraq.

Jones represented the 3rd District for nearly a quarter century. He was well known for his integrity and his attentiveness to his constituents. Celia Stone, who cast her vote for Murphy Tuesday, believes replacing the late congressman will be no small task.

“He didn’t follow the party line all the time, but I think people definitely admired him,” she said. “I think they’re big shoes to fill.”

Tom Eamon, political science professor at East Carolina University, echoes some of the usual praises for the late Jones. But Eamon notes that by occasionally bucking leadership Jones missed out on important committee leadership posts he could have had based on his seniority.

“It could be that should Murphy stay in Congress for a good while that as a team player he may be in a better position to move up in the ranks.”

With his win last night Murphy has now won four elections in 10 months. And his next election is not too far off. Candidate filing for the 2020 elections opens in less than three months.

Jeff Tiberii is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Jeff joined WUNC in 2011. During his 20 years in public radio, he was Morning Edition Host at WFDD and WUNC’s Greensboro Bureau Chief and later, the Capitol Bureau Chief. Jeff has covered state and federal politics, produced the radio documentary “Right Turn,” launched a podcast, and was named North Carolina Radio Reporter of the Year four times.
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